How to Protect your Pipes from Winter Weather

Many people welcome the crisp, cold winter weather, but nobody welcomes pipe-related headaches that can come with the dropping temperatures. On average, a quarter-million families have their homes severely damaged each winter because of frozen pipes that have burst or cracked, soaking carpets, ruining furniture, and damaging walls. But you can prevent your pipes from freezing or bursting by taking the following steps.

Before the temperatures drop…

  • Insulate pipes in your home’s crawl spaces, attic, and garage. These exposed pipes are most susceptible to freezing. The more insulation you use, the better protected your pipes are.
  • Wrap pipes with heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables. Be sure to follow all manufacturers’ installation and operation instructions.
  • Seal leaks that allow cold air inside, near where pipes are located (i.e. around electrical wiring, dryer vents, other pipes), with caulk or insulation. When it’s extremely cold, a tiny opening can let in enough cold air to cause a pipe to freeze.
  • Disconnect garden hoses and, if practical, use an indoor valve to shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets, drip irrigation systems, sprinklers, and evaporative (swamp) coolers.

When it freezes…

  • Let warm water drip from your faucet overnight, preferably from a faucet on an outside wall.
  • Open cabinet doors to allow heat to reach uninsulated pipes under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.

If you’re away…

  • Don’t set the thermostat in your house too low.
  • Shut off and drain the water system by shutting off the main valve and turning on every water fixture (both hot and cold) until water stops running. It’s not necessary to leave the fixtures open. But remember, if you have a fire protection sprinkler system in your house, it may be deactivated when you shut off the water.

Finally, if your pipes do freeze…

  • Turn on your faucets. If nothing comes out, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve, leave the faucets on, and call a plumber.
  • Thaw frozen pipes with warm air from a hair dryer, if practical. Start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of the pipe. Never thaw a pipe with a torch or other open flame.